Book Club: The Next Chapter Review – Second Verse, Same as the First

A little under five years ago I opened a review of the first Book Club film stating that it’s not a perfect film, noting that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had that year. And, to my complete lack of surprise, the sequel Book Club: The Next Chapter is also not a perfect film, but thanks to the joyous chemistry of the four leads, it is a very enjoyable experience at the cinema.

The Next Chapter reunites Jane Fonda’s Vivian, Candice Bergen’s Sharon, Diane Keaton’s Diane, and Mary Steenburgen’s Carol as the book club faithful friends who have been catching up every month to talk about the books they’ve been reading. The film opens with a montage of Zoom-set book club catchups as each of the women deal with their respective COVID lockdown lives, replete with routine Zoom jokes like ‘Diane Keaton turns herself into a potato and doesn’t know how to be human again’ and ‘your camera isn’t on, we can’t see you.’ The COVID-era comedy classics, if you will.

Before you know it, lockdown is over and the world is open again, leading the foursome to come to the decision of heading to Italy for a holiday. Throwing a momentary spanner in the works is yet another impromptu wedding proposal from Vivian’s partner Arthur (Don Johnson), a heart ailment that has stilted Carol’s husband Bruce’s (Craig T. Nelson) life, the now retired federal judge Sharon’s ageing cat that needs daily medication, and the always indecisive life choices of Diane, causing each character to have a vague reason to not go on the trip. Sure enough, moving the ever so light plot along with just a whisper is easy, as Sharon’s cat dies, Arthur pushes Vivian to go on the trip, Bruce agrees that he’ll rest while Carol is away, with Diane following the leader.

What follows is a picture-perfect tour of Italy where enough wine to fill the Venice canals is consumed alongside dialogue that consists of copious amounts of double entendres and sexually suggestive humour. While the script by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms isn’t anything revolutionary, it does give each of the actors enough ground to exercise their comedic stylings, even if it’s simply making jokes aplenty about the ‘rock hard’ members on the marble statues in Rome. The Next Chapter is light and fluffy fare that serves its target audience perfectly, namely women of a similar age to those on screen.

As with the first film, there’s an immediate rhythm and familiarity that comes with seeing seasoned actors like Fonda, Bergen, Keaton, and Steenburgen bounce off one another that makes The Next Chapter a rather comfortable affair. An easy comparison for each of the characters is the Sex and the City series, with Vivian subbing in for Carrie, Carol for Miranda, Diane for Charlotte, and Sharon for Samantha.

As such, Fonda takes surrogate lead duties as the film coalesces around Vivian’s impending wedding day, frequently making her the straight character for the others to bounce off. Mary Steenburgen is charming as Carol, getting some of the films biggest laughs when she meets up with a beau from her past (Vincent Riotta) and they make dough together. Curiously, she also is given a chance to show off her piano accordion skills, which are rather impressive and seemingly a step up from tap dancing to Meat Loaf.

For Keaton, this is familiar territory, with her filmography of the past few decades seeing her play a version of herself on screen. Here, her mirror-imaged Diane gets to wear her trademarked skirt and hat number that looks simply divine, giving an air of prestige to the final moments of the film. It goes without saying, this is a film set completely within Diane Keaton’s wheelhouse, and that’s ok.

However, the comedic center point for the film is easily Candice Bergen whose spinster Sharon is given even more of a free reign to engage in whatever takes her fancy now that she is comfortably retired. A romantic encounter with a man at a bar (Hugh Quarshie) leads to some notable comedic moments, especially in relation to a roving police officer (Giancarlo Giannini) who occasionally floats into the groups orbit.

Book Club: The Next Chapter is the textbook definition of a ‘feel good’ film, and sometimes that’s just enough. I doubt I’ll be remembering many of the comedic moments from this film, just like I barely remember any from the first film, but I do remember how they made me feel, and that’s just a little bit brighter for the rest of the day that I saw it, and that’s just fine.

Director: Bill Holderman

Cast:

Writers: Bill Holderman, Erin Simms

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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